Columnist's choices

Some of the N&O's books columnists offer their choices for holiday gifts. Stay tuned for more picks in coming weeks.

Susie Wilde on children's books

"A Seed Is Sleepy" by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 16.96; ages 4-7) Aston combines poetry and fact to tell the story of seeds. Sylvia Long's rich, detailed watercolors complete the depiction.

Dinosaurium: 10 Books in One (DK Publishing, $24.99, 8 and up) Got a dinosaur lover in your house? Nestled away in a book with a big blinking dinosaur eye lurk 10 small books that reveal everything from dinosaur parts to timelines!

Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive by Carole Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Walker, $16.95, ages 8-11) A series of second-person lyrical biographical poems zoom in on Owens who "trounces Jim Crow" and goes from "second-class citizen to first-place finisher" facing Hitler on the fields of the 1936 Olympics.

Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt (Simon and Schuster, $17.99, ages 7-10) Frank McCourt's storytelling translates well in children's books as he tells a Christmas story about his mother, the character who brought him acclaim in the world of adult fiction. Six-year-old Angela passes by the crèche scene in front of St. Joseph's Church and, worried about the Baby Jesus having no blanket, takes him home to warm him. Raul Colon's illustrations stresses blue tones, picturing the cold December night and contrasting golden lights of Angela's home.

"I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato" by Lauren Child, paper engineering by Corina Fletcher (Candlewick, $18.99, ages 3-6) The dynamic sibling duo of Charlie and Lola, his fussy-eater sister, are a perfect match for a book that pops up, pulls out and flips open to portray their lively interactions.

Gabriel Morgan of Sci-Fi Files recommends:

Soon I Will Be Invincible: A Novel by Austin Grossman (Pantheon, $22.95, 288 pages). A hilarious attempt to novelize a Golden Age comic book, dancing between satire and simple adoration for the form. It bogs down at times, but the first chapter is worth the price of the book alone.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville (DelRay, $17.95, 448 pages) A brilliant post-Harry-Potter Young Adult fantasy takes the assumptions of the genre and challenges them. Is it healthy that prophecies declare a Chosen One, and what if they are wrong?

Acacia by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday, $26.95, 592 pages) Durham, known for historical fiction, turns to epic fantasy with mixed results. The world is complex and nuanced, but the characters play in stereotype and there is a puzzling lack of imagination -- still, worth the time for fans of the genre.

Widdershins by Charles de Lint (Tor Books, $14.95, 560 pages) De Lint's brilliant character-building stands out here, in a tale where Native American spirits play games with faeries and nothing is as it seems.

Slan: A Novel by A.E. Van Vogt (Orb Books, $13.95, 256 pages) In this science fiction classic back in print, the breakneck pacing and brilliant turns simply make a wonderful story. It almost demands to be read in one sitting.

Michael Chitwood recommends these collections of poetry:

Time and Materials by Robert Hass (Ecco/HarperCollins, $22.95, 88 pages) Winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, this collection by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass explores current culture in America.

Dismal Rock by Davis McCombs (Tupelo Press, $16.95, 62 pages)

Gulf Music by Robert Pinsky (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22, 96 pages)

Rod Cockshutt recommends these mysteries:

Someone on your holiday gift list hankering for whodunits? How about a host of hard-boiled heroes handsomely packaged in new editions or reprints.

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage, $25), is 1,200 pages of stories, novellas and alluringly lurid cover art from 1920s and '30s pulp magazine classics like Black Mask and Dime Detective. Perfect coffee-table book for a coffee table with a fresh corpse under it.

Dashiell Hammett Omnibus (Everyman's Library, $25) With an introduction by modern noir novelist James Ellroy, this collection includes some of legendary Dashiell Hammett's best work--"The Dain Curse," "The Glass Key" and selected stories in one beautifully produced volume.

Philip Marlowe's Guide to Life by Raymond Chandler (Knopf, $14.95) is a literally stocking-stuffable sampler of the sardonic Marlowe's more memorable flights of metaphorical fancy: "It was a blonde, a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window." Or "I lit a cigarette. It tasted like a plumber's handkerchief."

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Women He Loved edited by Judith Freeman (Pantheon, $25.95) Chandler buffs who want something more serious, but still fun, will love this. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hear Chandler's hero Marlowe observe "They say lust makes a man old, but keeps a woman young. They say a lot of nonsense."

Bridgette A. Lacy suggests tuning in to these audiobooks:

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. Read by the author. (Penguin Audio, $39.95, Unabridged, 13 hours.) An inspirational memoir, which turns into a voyage of discovery in pursuit of pleasure and inner peace and the balancing of both.

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire. Read by Jason Culp. (Scholastic Audiobooks, $34.95, 7 hours, 13 minutes) Maguire, the author of "Wicked" spins a delightful tale about tooth fairies.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. Read by Arthur Morey. (Random House Audio, $44.95, 27 hours) Pulitzer Prize-winning author Russo explores the limitations of spending a lifetime in the same town.